If you – or even a former owner – have done any building works to the property, the buyers will be investigating whether the works received proper approval from the local council. There are three types of approval which can be needed.
Listed building consent
If you live in a listed building – usually an old property designated as being of particular historical or architectural importance – then almost any building works you do, apart from pure maintenance, require listed building consent from the local council. If you don’t get such consent, it can be quite a serious matter. It’s potentially a criminal offence.
No matter how long ago the work was done, the council can require it to be undone. So, if you live in a listed building, you need to prove you have all necessary listed building consents for works carried out in the past.
If you don’t, your buyers will probably insist that you get a retrospective permission from the council. The council will then have to come and inspect. They may require works to be undone or redone. Among other problems, this will all take time.
If you carried out major building works, such as an extension, or a Velux window in the roof, or various other works to the exterior of building, you may have needed planning consent. The planning system is there to prevent various changes to properties happening willy-nilly.
However, once four years have passed after the works were carried out, you are deemed to have permission and the council can no longer take any action. So, buyers can really only raise an issue with you about breach of planning for building works if it has occurred within the last four years.
If it occurred earlier, you can just refer them to that four-year amnesty period and that should be the end of your problem. If it is something you did during the last four years, then you will have to go for a retrospective planning permission along the same lines as for listed building consent above.
Building regulation consent
Most works to a building, even if they don’t require planning or listed building consent, will still require the approval of the local ‘building inspector’ or ‘district surveyor’. Works have to comply with building regulations which the building inspector enforces. The idea is to make sure that properties are properly constructed to current standards and are safe.
The rule used to be that as soon as one year had passed, the council could take no action. So, buyers’ solicitors didn’t worry much about breaches of building regulations except on relatively new properties. But then there was a court case in which the judge said the council could get an injunction against home owners to force them to put building works right even after the one-year period had passed. Since that court decision, buyers’ solicitors have been hot on breaches of building regulations, no matter how long ago they occurred.
So, if any works have been carried out you should have a certificate from the council confirming that the building inspector was satisfied with the works.
However, if you can’t produce that, don’t necessarily let the buyers insist on you going through some long protracted procedure to get a retrospective permission. Basically, there are three possible situations.
First, you may be able to show that you did apply for building regulation consent, but no formal certificate was issued by the council because it wasn’t their practice to do so at the time. That is how it was with many councils until recently. If that is the situation, you should refuse to now go back and get a certificate.
Secondly, it may be that you can’t show that the building regulation procedure was gone through – perhaps because work was done by previous owner – but the buyer’s surveyor has no problem with any of the works. Again, you shouldn’t have to go back to the council. The buyer can cover any possible risk by taking out an insurance policy. They are relatively cheap.
Thirdly, it may be that you can’t show that the building regulation procedure was gone through, and the buyers’ surveyor says there is a substantial risk that the regulations weren’t complied with. In that case, you probably do have to go back for a retrospective consent, because the buyers will want to be sure their home is safe.